One night, while sleeping in his Manchester home, 21-year-old Kieran Hamilton was awoken by some strange noises. As he came to, he thought he heard footsteps on the stairs. His pair of French bulldogs often fight, and he presumed one had broken through the baby gate and run upstairs.
Bleary eyed and in his boxer shorts, Kieran – who goes by "Kez" – got out of bed to investigate and was met by two machete-wielding men screaming at him, demanding money, drugs and watches. "I got stabbed because of my Instagram presence," he explains over the phone. "It looked like a massacre had taken place when they left."
Before the robbery, Kez had been a cryptocurrency trader. A high school dropout living on a council estate, he taught himself via trial and error, and through YouTube tutorials, investing savings from his day job working at an 02 phone shop. He didn't have the most auspicious start – his account was hacked and he lost the £3,000 he'd saved to invest – but over time his skills grew, and so did his income. He claims he was making around £50,000 a month, and soon his Twitter and Instagram profiles began to reflect this luxe new lifestyle: a plush new house, holiday snaps, overflowing shopping bags, sports cars, champagne, Rolex watches and a set of newly whitened teeth.
Rumours had begun to spread locally about how Kez had accumulated so much wealth in such a short space of time. "I'm from a lower working class background, and some people think it's not possible for me to be where I am without being involved in selling drugs," he says. "I've been asked where my money is from, with people being like, 'There's no way you can make money on the Internet.' Rumours then start spreading like a whirlwind, and people start coming up with their own conspiracy theories."
Kez believes these rumours – coupled with his online presence – led to him being tracked and targeted as a cash-rich drug dealer, with the two men ordering him to empty his safe, flip his mattress and hand over his cash. "I don't sell drugs, I don't have a safe and I don't keep money under my mattress," he says. "That’s how I know these guys had been given inaccurate information."
Kez's case may be extreme, due to the intense violence of the incident, but his experience falls under a growing area of crime. According to a 2018 report, one in 12 Brits have reported a burglary after posting on social media, with more than half admitting they had location tagging turned on. Another survey found that 78 percent of burglars use social media as a tracking method to see who they want to target. A burglary ring in the US used social media to track wealthy people who had shared their valuable art collections online. One mayoral candidate in Houston was relieved of his works by Andy Warhol, Picasso and Monet after he hosted an art gala at his home, making it easy for thieves to know what he had, and where.
The Saudi influencer Hitham was mugged coming out of a London restaurant, while the home of the extremely online YouTube star PewDiePie was robbed just before Christmas. This came after he'd posted a video to his fans urging them to stop turning up at his house because people had been able to work out where he lived. A few years ago, ex-footballer John Terry decided to announce to his 3.4 million Instagram followers that he and his family were on a delightful skiing holiday. Burglars thanked him for the heads up by invading his empty home with axes and stealing £400,000 worth of items.
Crimes related to posting images of your lifestyle online – often dubbed "Insta-Bragging" – have become such an issue that MoneySupermarket warned that insurers may stop paying out on some theft cases. This is because a standard contents insurance contract has a reasonable care clause, i.e. if you announce that your house is full of super expensive goodies, and that you're off sunning yourself on a yacht in another country, that could qualify as being careless.
Kim Kardashian was famously robbed at gunpoint in Paris in 2016 after being tracked online – but the worrying thing about Kez's case, and others like it, is that he isn't that rich or famous. He has a modest online following, came into a bit of money and ended up with a gaping machete wound in his arm.
That night, it was Kez's sarcasm that landed him in the most trouble. "They were screaming and threatening," he recalls. "And I'm a very sarcastic person. I can't help it. They were saying, 'We want this, we want that,' and I was just like, 'Well, I don't have that.' I offered some bottles of champagne, which were about £300 a bottle, and they said, 'We don't want them, we want your watch and drugs.' So I said, 'Well, you're in the wrong house, mate.'"
One of the attackers – since jailed – had been prodding and lightly stabbing Kez with the knife as he walked him around the house demanding items. "I did get a sense from his character that he didn't really have it in him," says Kez. "He was stabbing me a lot of times, but he wasn't really piercing the skin." Soon enough, frustrated that Kez didn’t have drugs and cash, the attacker punched him in the face.
"It didn't really hurt, and then he punched me again, and I thought, 'It's going to hurt if he carries on doing this,'" says Kez. "He's got a knife in his hand, so I couldn't really defend myself, so the third time he punched me I thought, 'I'm going to pretend he's knocked me out.' So I stumbled back and fell on the floor, but he knew I was blagging it. Then, after that, he's just stabbing me pure times. I was pretty good at dodging them, but he did get me. He didn't have it in him until I really annoyed him. Then he was serious."
In the end, the thieves took Kez's laptop, phone and his dog, Rambo. Kez made posters and offered £1,000 for Rambo's return, but it would be a year before he heard anything. "I got a call one day saying a dog microchipped in my name had been found," he recalls. "I was buzzing to get him back."
Kez is more into property than crypto these days, and while he's not as active online as he used to be, he feels people are prone to misunderstanding the role and function of having such a presence.
"Some people think you're posting to show off," he says. "It's not. Why would I want to show off and get stabbed? I post to document my success, to show that people coming from lower working class backgrounds can do it, and to show there's countless ways to make money on the internet. People can still look at all that negatively, but I think that depends on the person. Social media is basically part of the job for me. I'm not saying that posting online isn't real, but you only post the best parts of your life. My Insta is basically like my brand."
Any lessons learned? "You just have to be careful," he says. "When you're out there on social media, you have to be prepared, so now every day I'm prepared." Prepared how? "I can't tell you how, but it's all legal. Security is a lot higher. Just in case the demons come lurking again."